Lawmaker defends government importation of PPEs
House public accounts committee chairman Mike Defensor said the allegations of the opposition senator on the five million pieces of Chinese-made PPEs purchased by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) from April to May were “despicable, baseless accusations... that mislead, malign or spread disinformation” and only served “to divide and plant seeds of dissent.”
The STAR/Michael Varcas/File
Lawmaker defends government importation of PPEs
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A ranking congressman yesterday defended the government’s purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) from Chinese companies, which Sen. Risa Hontiveros claimed to be overpriced by P1 billion.

House public accounts committee chairman Mike Defensor said the allegations of the opposition senator on the five million pieces of Chinese-made PPEs purchased by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) from April to May were “despicable, baseless accusations... that mislead, malign or spread disinformation” and only served “to divide and plant seeds of dissent.”

“Claims of overpricing are untrue. At the time of DBM’s questioned purchases between March and May this year, the Philippines and the whole world were in panic mode. Each country was scrambling for PPEs and face masks and were fighting over limited supply. Even first world countries like the United States and Great Britain didn’t have enough protective gear for their frontliners,” he stressed.

The Anakalusugan party-list congressman also turned the tables on Hontiveros, saying her insinuations were a mere ‘smokescreen’ to hide overpricing during the previous administration.

In a statement, Defensor said he suspects that Hontiveros’ motivation for making baseless accusations against DBM is not purely for altruistic reasons.

“I think the ‘Yellows’ are trying to shame the Duterte administration to keep the opposition’s own shortcomings in flagging anomalous transactions during the term of former president Noynoy Aquino,” he said.

During the Aquino administration, the congressman said the Department of Health purchased PPEs from Rebmann Inc. at a much higher price of P3,500 per set in September 2015. This was followed by another purchase in 2016 of the same 8-piece PPE set at a much higher price of P3,864 per set. These prices are higher by at least 97 percent and 118 percent, respectively, compared to the purchase price of similar PPE sets bought by DBM in the middle of a pandemic at an average price of P1,773.51 per set.

“Senator Hontiveros questions the alleged P200 overprice without proof, but she’s tight-lipped when her colleagues in the former administration bought PPEs at twice today’s prices,” he stressed.

Hontiveros earlier said the Chinese PPEs were at least P200 more expensive than the average estimated cost of PPE purchased by the Philippine General Hospital, which pegged the price at P1,200 to P1,500.

But Defensor argued that there was nothing wrong in purchasing more expensive PPEs during the height of the pandemic. “As the contagion spread and our frontliners were falling ill or dying due to lack of protection, government had to think and act fast,” he stressed.

“It’s no secret that between March and May 2020 there was extremely high demand for PPEs. As the epicenter of COVID-19 at that time, China itself was prioritizing its needs over other countries. Following the law of supply and demand, it was expected that prices of protective gear would go through the roof. Since it was a seller’s market, government had no choice but to bite the bullet,” he stressed.

He agreed with the DBM that the Philippines was actually lucky to have secured the PPE supplies considering the circumstances at that time.

“As DBM correctly noted, it was indeed a ‘miracle’ that we got the much needed supplies since hundreds of other countries wanted to get their hands on it. Prices only stabilized when production capacity finally caught up with demand, but it took months before this happened,” the congressman said.

“If DBM did not purchase PPEs at the questioned prices in March, they would not be accused now of overpricing but of criminal negligence for allowing frontliners to be infected or die due to lack of protective equipment,” he argued.

On allegations that DBM favored imported PPEs over local, he said that at the time of the questioned procurement, only one local supplier made an offer and didn’t even qualify.

“Take note, this was between March and May – at the height of the pandemic. There were no local PPE makers at that time. It wasn’t until August, at the prodding of DTI, that several local firms were able to set up or convert their factories to produce protective gear. It took time because their products had to first pass strict safety and quality standards. Hence, Senator Hontiveros’ attempt to paint government as pro-imported and anti-local falls flat on its face,” he pointed out.

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